Wednesday, May 28, 2008


This writer, as my regular readers know, has endorsed wholeheartedly the Yankees' decision to return Joba Chamberlain to his rightful place in the starting rotation. Quite simply, as a starter Chamberlian can influence more innings and obtain more outs and with greater regularity over the course of a season than as a set-up reliever. (See below "Joba For Starter," April 13, 2008.) Indeed, sabermetricians' win-share statistics (WARP and VORP) reveals that even the league-average starter contributes more wins to his team than a premiere set-up man.

The benefits of Joba resuming the role in which he soared through the Yankees' farm system last year outweighs the loss his departure from the bullpen will entail. That isn't to say, the cost will be negligible; it won't be.

The Yankees' crushing loss to the Orioles in 11 innings on May 27 only dramatizes the void Joba leaves behind. It was exasperating enough when Ross Ohlendorf blew a 4-run lead in the 5th inning, surrendering 3 home-runs in a single inning. But then LaTroy Hawkins capped the ineptitude, repeating the feat in the 11th, squandering a 1-run lead and ultimately, losing the ball game.

Had Joba been available to pitch that night, the game certainly would have unfolded very differently. Whether it would have affected the outcome is another matter. (Keep in mind: Girardi likely would have deployed Joba in the innings Farnsworth and Ramirez pitched and hence not have had him in reserve for the 11th inning even were he available.)

Was last night an ill-fated harbinger or just a single vivid illustration? Only time will tell, but thus far, the post-Joba bullpen hardly has provided cause for optimism.

Of course, a bullpens' loss of its 2nd best reliever would exact a toll under any circumstance, whomever the player, whatever the team.

However, Joba's absence especially taxes the Yankees present bullpen because injuries have felled their two most potent and reliable relief pitchers through the season's first two months: Brian Bruney and Jonathan Albaladejo.

Bruney had posted a miniscule 1.59 ERA over 11 innings; and Albaladejo, a 3.95 ERA in 13.7 innings.

With the exception of Edward Ramirez, there isn't a single other reliever in the bullpen with under a 4.00 ERA. Even Farnsworth, who has improved this year, but is still hardly a paragon of consistency, has a 4.24 ERA and a 1.54 WHIP over 23.3 innings.

Compare this to the Yankees' AL East divisional rivals. Excluding their closers, I list below the number of relievers each possesses with under a 4.00 ERA while having thrown at least 16 innings. I include each bullpen's total ERA as well.
  • Red Sox- 3 - (Okajima, Aardsma, Lopez); Total Bullpen ERA = 4.33
  • Jays - 4- (Carslon, Downs, Tallet, Fraser); Total Bullpen ERA = 2.90
  • O's - 4- (Bradford, Sarfate, Johnson, Albers); Total Bullpen ERA = 3.17 ERA
  • Rays- 3- (Wheeler, Miller, Howell); Total Bullpen ERA = 3.59
  • Yankees w/o Joba - ZERO - (including Edwar's 14 IP, one)
  • Yankees Bullpen's Total ERA (w/o Joba) = 3.95 ERA

Superficially, then, the Yankees' prospects of overcoming Joba's absence look prety bleak.


To reiterate, the Yankees bullpen's preponderant deficiency is one of personnel. With Joba's transition to the rotation, Albaladejo out for another 2-6, and Bruney, perhaps, gone for the season, the Yankees, outside their closer, presently have a sum total of one relief pitcher, Edwar Ramirez, they can trust and another, in Farnsworth, who inspires something closer to equivocal faith or outright agnosticism.

Add to this a starting rotation averaging 5.26 IP per start and the Yankees have a prescription, at best, for mediocrity even if the lineup suddenly regains last year's proficiency.

Still, the Yankees' bullpen's shortcoming doesn't stem entirely from inadequate performance. Its manager's stewardship has contributed to it, or at the very least, it raises troubling questions. For all the vitriolic criticism heaped on Joe Torre for abusing certain relievers and ravaging others' arms-- the former a valid critcism; the latter, an exaggerated one-- Joe Girardi hasn't exactly demonstrated inimitable genius in utilizing his bullpen either. The injuries and lackluster personnel, notwithstanding.

Mussina's two outings against the Red Sox only consist of the most dramatic and obvious example. Indeed, Girardi's use of Ross Ohlendorf has ill-served the team as well. By appointing him the team's de facto long reliever, the manager is wasting an arm capable of throwing a 95 mph sinker best confined to single innings of work.

Instead, Ohlendorf has pitched more innings than any other Yankees reliever, 29.7 IPs, which may or may not account for his bloated 6.37 ERA and dismal 1.61 WHIP. But greater scrunity reveals how Girardi's deployment of Ohlendorf has diminished both his value and his efficacy.

Of Ohlendorf's 16 appearances, the Yankees have reserved him to one inning or less in only 7 appearances; in the remainder the Yankees have pitched him as few as two innings and as many as 3.3 innings. The disparity is telling. In his first full inning of work (15.1 inning of his total 29.7), Ohlendorf's ERA drops to 4.70 and his WHIP to 1.46. In fact, excluding that dreadful outing against the Mets where he surrendered 4 earned runs in 0.33 inning, Ohlendorf's ERA in his first inning of work is 2.35, with a WHIP of 1.17. Those are extraordinary numbers, rivalling even the Great Joba's 2.42 ERA and 1.12 WHIP.

Girardi has to be aware that after an inning of use Ohlendorf's proficiency plummets, so why does he continue to use him in long-relief. Can't someone from Scranton perform this role? Meanwhile, the Yankees squander a power arm and potential formidable reliever on mop-up duty.

Then there's the question of why it's taken Girardi so long to realize Edwar Ramirez's potential. Through 14 innings, Ramirez, astoundingly, has posted 0.00 ERA and has a 1.14 WHIP. Yet in Ramirez's 12 appearances, Girardi has used him only three times in critical situations, that is, where one run or less has separated the Yankees and the opposition. For some inexplicable reason, Girardi almost invariably calls on Kyle Farnsworth instead. I don't blame him; the bias for hard-throwing relievers is endemic. But wasn't the front-office's insistence that Girardi would excel Torre as a manager based principally on Girardi's supposed penchant for studying the stats. So what does he see that we don't?

Finally, there's the question of Jose Veras. Until Monday's debacle, Veras had posted a 3.12 ERA with an extraordinary 0.80 WHIP through 8 2/3 innings. True, the sample set is too small to draw any definitive conclusions. Nonetheless, Veras' performance certainly commended him over Hawkins both to start Monday's 8th inning and to pitch last night in the 11th. At the very least, Girardi has to start testing Veras in more close games and pressure situations to appraise his potential. At the moment, the verdict is still out.

Apart from re-considering Ohlendorf, Veras, and Ramirez's use and role, the organization may also summon an arm from their farm system-- Robertson or Cox from AAA and/or Melancon or Alfredo Acevedes in AA. But the Yankees shouldn't delude themselves into thinking every young arm, however great its potential, can duplicate the immediate impact Joba exerted last season.

The Yankees, accrodingly, face a forbidding task ahead. Finding someone to replace Joba in the bullpen-- whether in the 8th inning, or in the 6th and 7th innings if Farnsworth assumes the set-up role-- will not be easy. Arms like Joba's are rare; his poise and confidence, scarcer still. As such, no one can fill Chamberlain's shoes. Yet whether the Yankees can find someone to follow in his tracks may well determine their fate this season.

In the meantime, let the auditions begin.

Monday, May 19, 2008


Over the last decade, one of the great revolutions in Major League Baseball, and all professional sports for that matter, has arisen in front-office personnel. The Ivy League statistical prodigy has dispossessed the former professional athlete. While corporate financial models and Wall Street metrics increasingly shape team's decisions, strategies, and worldview.

So perhaps, it's fitting in assessing the Yankees' progress through the long, arduous trial of a six month season to borrow a corporate index: the Quarterly Report. A 162-game season, after all, divides almost evenly by four. And with the Yankees' having played just over 40 games, at this writing, their season warrants one.

What label then to affix the Yankees' First Quarter of 20 wins and 24 losses that has them languishing the AL East cellar? "Mediocrity Incarnate" or "A Gentlemen's 'C', as in Cashman's Comeuppance". Or perhaps, resuming the Wall Street metaphor, perhaps, we should call the New York Yankees: "Bear Stearns"

So much for the promise that Girardi's rigorous Spring Training would forestall yet another lackluster start. Thus far, the 2008 season mirrors the 2007 one. In fact, on May 22, 2007, just after the conclusion of the 2007 Subway Series' first installment, the New York Yankees were 20-24, the very record they possess following 2008's first Subway Series' finale.

The salient difference: in 2007, the Yankees were 10.5 games out of first place, 9 games in the loss column. In 2008, the Yankees are only 6 games out of first place, 5 games in the loss column. On the one hand, this should console fans because less distance separates them from 1st place. On the other hand, it should cause them chagrin. Greater parity in the league means the climb upward will prove more difficult.

2007 REDUX?

Indeed, the 20-24 record doesn't exhaust the parallels. Both '07 and '08 teams have sustained injuries to key players that stunted their potential and marred their performance.

In 2007, recall, the Yankees pitching staff bore the brunt of the Baseball's Gods curse. Wang and Mussina had stints on the DL. Pavano and Rasner were lost for the season. Karstens and Hughes each missed two to three months. The Scranton shuttle shufffled Wright, Clippard, DeSalvo, and Igawa into and out of the rotation. Indeed, between Opening Day and May 30, 2007, the Yankees resorted to 11 different pitchers to start games.

In 2008, by contrast, the injuries largely have beset the lineup. A-Rod has missed 20 of their first 44 games (45%); Posada, 25 of the 44 or (59%) of the season. While Hughes, again, will miss 2 to 3 months of the season, but he wasn't pitching too well anyway. And Rasner, thus far, has shown he, at least, can shoulder Hughes' innings.

The real setback in 2008 has been the injuries to the lineup. Still, can the combined loss of just two hitters account for the Yankees' current offensive inepitude? (After all, didn't the 2005 team lose Gary Sheffield and Hideki Matsui early in the season and prosper nonetheless.) Well, yes.
  • Through 44 in 2007, the Yankees had scored 236.
  • Through 44 games in 2008, the Yankees have scored 179.
  • Percentage Decline = 24%
In 2007, A-Rod accounted for 17% of the Yankees' runs (RC= 166, Yankees total runs = 968); Posada, 12 % (117 of 968).

In 2008, Morgan Ensberg and Jose Molina, the Yankees primary two replacements for A-Rod and Posada, have RC totals in 2008 of 4 and 5 respectively (or 2 to 3 percent).

Accordingly, the loss of A-Rod and Posada (-29%), in conjunction with the negligible production the Yankees have received from their replacements (+4%), would account for the approximately 25% drop in the Yankees' offensive production.

What about the pitching staff? With the exception of Phil Hughes, the Baseball Gods, mercifully, have spared the starting rotation from rehearsal of 2007. Still, 2008 starters hardly have distinguished themselves either.
  • Through 44 games in 2007, the Yankees allowed 209 runs
  • Through 44 games in 2008, the Yankees have allowed 197.

Considering that in 2007, Wang and Mussina each spent time on the DL in April and May and the likes of Wright, DeSalvo, Clippard and Igawa started many of those games, by comparison, the 2008 Runs Allowed totals look especially alarming.

  • Through 44 games, 2008 Yankees pitching staff = 4.48 ERA, 1.35 WHIP
  • Through 44 games, 2007 Yankees pitching staff = 4.74 ERA, 1.42 WHIP

To do full justice to the 2008 pitch staff, however, would necessitate evaluating the bullpen and starters separately. The bullpen in 2008, does not in anyway resemble the tattered, feckless group that characterized the 2007 bullpen until Joba's arrival.

  • 2008: Yankees starters have a 5.04 ERA over 234 IP-- avg. = 5.31 IP/G (44 games)
  • 2008: Yankees bullpen has a 3.62 ERA, over 151.2 IP.

Compare 2007's totals by season's end.

  • 2007: Yankees starters had 4.57 ERA over 921 IPs-- avg. = 5.68 IP/G (162 games)
  • 2007: Yankees reliever had 4.37 ERA over 529.2 IP

The stats would seem to prove what even the casual observer of the 2008 team's pitching staff, no doubt, already has concluded. The bullpen has improved. The starting pitching, on the other hand, despite all the injuries it sustained in 2007, hasn't performed much better this season.

Evidently, Cashman's much-ballyhooed re-investment in the farm system is still years away from paying dividends in the starting rotation. As this writer has observed before, young starting pitching often takes years to blossom. The problem is that the Yankees' aging lineup doesn't have many years before it withers. Indeed, Giambi and Damon already bear its marks.


So does the Yankees trajectory of 2007-- a woeful 1st Quarter that preceded a 94-win season-- bode well for the 2008 team? Not exactly.

In 2007, the Yankees' dramatic resurrection stemmed from a tender 2nd half schedule. At the 2007 All-Star Break, the Yankees were 43-43. After it, the Yankees went 51-25, by feeding on the AL's carrion, KC, Tampa, Chicago, Baltimore. What's more, they only had to travel once to the West Coast and only had to play but 3 games there (against Anaheim).

The second half of the Yankees schedule in 2008 greatly exceeds 2007's in difficulty, perhaps by mulitple orders of magnitude. They Yankees have to travel twice to the West Coast-- twice, in fact, in a matter of only 4 weeks (August 8th and again September 5th). Meanwhile, on those two trips, they have to play their bete noire, Anaheim, 6 times. What's more each trip's travel schedule will prove exacting in itself. The first trip to Anaheim comes in between two series West of the Mississippi, preceded in Texas, culminated in Minnesota. The second trip takes the Yankees from a 7:00pm game on September 4th in Tampa 3,000 miles across the Continent to play a night game on September 5th in Seattle.

Overall, after the '08 All-Star break, the Yankees have to play their nemesis, Anaheim, a total of 10 times. (They also have 9 games againt Boston.)

The other reason why the Yankees cannot expect to repeat 2007's formula for success is because the AL is simply more competitive this season; the AL East, especially so.

In the 2007, against non-AL East opponents the Yankees posted winning records against the following teams:

  • 9-1 against KC
  • 6-0 against Cleveland
  • 5-1 against Texas;
  • 5-2 against Minnesota
  • 6-4 against the White Sox

The Yankees' record against the AL East in 2007:

  • 10-8 Boston
  • 10-8 Toronto
  • 9-9 Baltimore
  • 10-8 Tampa

The Yankees will hard-pressed to duplicate this success in 2008. They already have lost 4 of 6 to Cleveland, 2 of 3 against KC and Baltimore, and are 1-4 against Detroit.


Given the difficulty of the Yankees' second-half schedule, if they expect to reverse 2008's inauspicious beginning, they have to do so immediately. They cannot afford to finish with a .500 record at the All-Star break and expect to win 51 games following it. The fate of their season hinges on the present, with their performance over the next 6 six weeks deciding its outcome.

The 2007's schedule post-All Star break remission occurs this year in June. Between tomorrow and the July 4th weekend, when the Yankees next play the Red Sox, the Yankees schedule lightens considerably. Over the next 42 games (23 of them at-home), the Yankees play these opponents the following number of games:

  • Baltimore- 6 times
  • Texas-- 3 times
  • Houston- 3 times
  • San Diego- 3 times
  • Pittsburgh- 3 times
  • Cincinatti-- 3 times
  • Mets- 4 times
  • Minn- 4 times
  • KC-- 4 times
  • Toronto- 3 times
  • Seattle-- 3 times
  • Oakland- 3 times

With A-Rod returning tomorrow and Posada, sometime in early June, the Yankees have no excuse for not playing well over .500 baseball for this stretch. A record of 28-17-- hardly a quixotic expecation-- would reverse their fortunes, return them to respectability, and fortify their confidence for the challenges that await them in July and beyond.

28-17 would make them 48-41 overall. And with parity prevailing throughout the AL, 48-41 would enable the Yankees to rehearse their 2007 trajectory, rising from the dead to assume their rightful position in the playoff race and to become the contenders they are.

But be warned. Karl Marx once observed, History always repeats itself: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce. Indeed, what could be more tragic than laughter in the Bronx?

Wednesday, May 7, 2008


On Friday, May 9, 2008, The New York Yankees will send Kei Igawa, the organization's $46 million dollar albatross, into the Tigers' den, to be, in all likelihood, bludgeoned and devoured.

Indeed, the most salient folly of Cashman's reign as plenary GM started 12 games in 2007 and with minor exception, flopped in every one. In those 12 games, Igawa threw 60.6 innings. His number appear below.
  • 47 earned runs
  • 74 hits
  • 33 walks
  • 14 Home Runs
  • 53 Keis
  • WHIP = 1.77
  • ERA = 6.98
  • Quality Starts (6 innings allowing 3 or less runs) = 1

His one quality start occurred on April 18 against Cleveland, throwing 6 innings of 2 run ball.

He registered another quality performance, however, in a memorable quasi-start on April 28 against Boston. Julio Lugo's lead-off hit in the 1st inning broke Jeff Karstens's leg. A batter later, Kei Igawa relieved the very pitcher who just had supplanted him from the starting rotation, and pitched 6 shut-out innings of 2 hit, 4 walk baseball. After which, David Ortiz, with all the charitable grace of a self-proclaimed Idiots, appraised Igawa's perfomance, as follows, "He was all right. Nothing special." Was bin-Papi being petty or prophetic? In his next outing, Igawa surrendered 8 runs in all of four innings.

In fact, in the 8 starts Igawa made after 04/28, he lasted into the 6th inning precisely ONCE, on June 30 against Oakland, in a game in which he allowed 4 earned runs, 3 of which homeruns produced.

Igawa's numbers at AAA Scranton hardly impress either, neither in 2007, nor in 2008. In fact, his 2008 stats roughly approximate his 2007 AAA numbers, over about one-half the sample size.

  • 2007- AAA- 11 GS-- 68.1 IPs, 3.69 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 10 HRs, 6.2 Innings per start
  • 2008- AAA- 7 GS-- 39.2 IPs, 3.86 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 3 HRs, 5.6 Innings per start

So how often do the Yankees promote starters who register little better than a prosaic 4.00 ERA in AAA? Well, one hopes not often. So why has Igawa earned this rare indulgence? Is it the $21 million posting the Yankees paid for his free-agent rights and $4 million dollar annual salary due him each season through 2011?


Here's perhaps an instructive comparison. Take the respective struggles that led the Yankees to demote Ian P. Kennedy in 2008 and Igawa in 2007. After all, Igawa earns $4 million; the Yankees pay IPK the league minimum. As it happens, the Yankees demoted them within almost one year of each other. The Yankees optioned IPK on May 3, 2008; Igawa, on May 7, 2007. More uncanny still is the similarity in the stats they posted beforehand.

Before his demotion on May 3, Ian Kennedy's 2008 numbers as an MLB starting pitcher were as follows:

  • 5 GS, 23.7 IPs, 8.37 ERA, 2.02 WHIP, 1 HR, Avg. Innings Per Start = 4.74

Before his demotion on May 8, Kei Igawa's 2007 numbers as an MLB starting pitcher were as follows MLB statistics were as follows (the first without the quasi-start against Boston, the second with):

  • 5GS, 24.1IPs, 10.08 ERA, 1.66 WHIP, 8 HR, Avg. Inning Per Start = 4.82
  • 6GS, 30.1 IPs, 7.63 ERA, 1.53 WHIP, 8HR, Avg. Inning per Start= 5.02

Not only do the numbers differ very little, excluding the Karstens' start, Igawa's and IPK's numbers bear an striking resemblance. The parallel here implies that far from money animating the Yankees' decision-making, the pitchers' ineptitude largely dictated the Front-Office's decision. Performance, at the very least, would appear to supersede money as the guiding index.

On the other hand, what about at the opposite end of the continuum? Did money influence Igawa's promotion in 2008? Once again, a comparison, albeit conversely, with the successs IPK enjoyed before the Yankees promoted him in 2007, illuminates.


Before the Yankees tapped IPK for his major league debut on September 1, 2007, IPK had excelled so effortelessly in A-ball the Yankees promoted him from single-A to triple A within a single season. (Much like Joba.) As a consequence, IPK didn't amass a represenative number of starter innings in any one level (63IP in Single-A Tampa, 48IP in Trenton, 34IP in Scranton) Still, the last of these figures sheds light on the question because Ian Kennedy's 2007 inning totals in Scranton before the Yankees elevated him roughly mirror the number of inning Igawa will have accumulated in Scranton before he starts against Detroit this Friday.

  • 2007-IPK (Scranton)- 6 GS, 34.2 IPs, 2.08 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 2HRs, 5.7 Innings per start
  • 2008-Kei (Scranton)- 7 GS, 39.2 IPs, 3.86 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 3 HRs, 5.6 Innings per start

IPK's numbers are considerably better than Igawa's, it seems, but not drastically better. Money could account, in this instance, for the Yankees' readiness to promote Igawa, despite his mediocrity, but the sample size is too sample and the differential too narrow, to draw a definitive conclusion.

In fact, with Alan Horne on the DL, Jeff Marquez foundering, and McCutchen still in AA, the case of the most seasoned alternative to Kei Igawa, only blurs matters. His name is Steven White. Over the last two years White has compiled almost as many starter innings in Scranton as Igawa has. Compare,

  • White- (07-08), 21 GS, 124.4 IPs, 3.32 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, Avg. Innnings per Start = 5.92
  • Igawa-(07-08), 18 GS, 107.3 IPs, 3.77 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, Avg. Innings per Start = 5.96

They're almost identical. White has a slightly lower ERA and has ceded fewer home runs, 7, to Igawa's 13, but otherwise neither especially recommends himself over the other.


Now, because the Yankees generate the most revenue in baseball, their detractors and assorted cynics, invariably, will attribute their every motive to the all-mighty dollar. To explain why the Yankees have promoted Kei Igawa, for example, a starter who has foundered consistently in the major leagues, they will look no further than the $4 million he earns: i.e., $3 million more than any other pitcher in the Yankees' farm system, and will surmise that the Yankees are desperate to salvage a scintilla of value from an otherwise $46 million dollar waste.

However, the above statistical examples, anecdotal to be sure, would paint a far more intricate picture. They appear to compel the conclusion, rather, that money only exercises perceptible influence when all else is equal; all else meaning, above all, the player's performance.

That is, Igawa's $4 million a year salary no more kept him in the Yankees' 2007 rotation when he struggled than IPK's league minimum salary secured when he faltered in 2008. Performance dictated the organization's decision regarding each; ineptitude consigned them to the minors.

On the other hand, when the need for a starter from AAA arose, money may have played some unquantifiable role in the Yankees decision to promote Igawa instead of White because their performances otherwise parallel each other. Unquanitifiable because Igawa's experience in having actually pitched in the major leagues before, among other factors, just as easily may have accounted for his selection over White.

Regardless, it's likely the Tigers lineup would ravage any of minor leaguers the Yankees could choose to oppose them on Friday. But by expending high-priced cannon fodder now, perhaps, the Yankees secure time to develop their more promising and potent weapons for the future.

Friday, May 2, 2008


The most implacable, unforgiving Yankees fan will trace the moment to Luis Gonzales' broken bat, bloop over 2nd base. Others will cite his namesake, Alex's, walk-off home run two years later in the 12th inning against Jeff Weaver.

For me however the defining moment of recent Yankees history, the watershed that heralded all the malaise to follow, and underscored the singular, overriding deficiency that has plagued this ball club ever since is Johnny Damon's grand slam. Not good, clean-shaven, Johnny Yank. No, heaven's forbid, not him. The other Johnny Damon, I mean. The evil double with the full, unkempt, beard; the long flowing locks; and the scarlet letter on his head-- Johnny Reb.

The moment's significance for our purposes, of course, arises not from whom hit the ball anyway but rather from whom pitched it. Or more accurately, the two starters who threw that ill-fated day in immediate succession-- the one who pitched Johnny Reb's coup de grace and his predecessor, the one who tossed Osama Bin Papi's bomb one frame earlier. In case you've forgotten their identities, the pitchers of that Game-- the game that is taboo, the game about which we shall not speak, the Game of Infamy--- were Kevin ("Harper's Ferry") Brown and Javier ("I'm Your Daddy") Vasquez.

Yes but, you object, how is that possible? After all, "Vasquez didn't return in 2005 and Kevin Brown retired that year mid-season." Indeed. They did. But Vasquez and Brown begat Cursed Carl and the Wall Unit and the scourge that afflicts them still.

In the off-season following That Game, the reeling, dejected Yankees, you will recall, traded Vasquez for the Wall Unit, and signed Carl "The Curse" Pavano to a four year $40 million dollar contract. An expenditure that, for the Yankees, has become synonymous with Ronald Reagan's three favorite words about government largesse, "waste, fraud, and abuse."

Indeed, when his expires at the end of 2008, Carl Pavano's total number of starts over four years, 19, will furnish the word futility new dramatic illustration in Yankee lore aside Ed Whitson, Britt Burns, and Pascual Perez.

To place the Pavano boondoggle in a modern perspective, compare him with another notable free-agent signings that followed in That Game's wake. While the New York Yankees signed 29-year old Carl Pavano for 4 years and $40 million dollars, the Los Angeles Dodgers, following That Game, signed That Game's winning pitcher, 31-year-old Derek Lowe, for 4 years and $36 million.[1] The comparison: since 2005, Carl Pavano has started 19 games and thrown 111.3 inning and made 19 starts; Derek Lowe has started 109 games and thrown 673.6 innings.

Now, understood literally, curses and hexes are superstitious twaddle fit for guilt-ridden, Puritan Nation and fodder for a vacuous, sensationalist media. Yankees fans don't believe in curses. So allow me this exercise instead in ominous coincidences and contagions.


Since signing Carl Pavano on December 20, 2005, key Yankees players seem to have suffered an aberrant rash of serious injuries-- serious, defined as sidelining a player for 4 weeks or more-over the last three-plus seasons. To recount,


  • Accursed Carl, 07/07/05, rotator cuff, DL- duration of season
  • Jared Wright, 04/24/05, shoulder injury, DL-- 4 months
  • Wang, 07/14/05, shoulder tendinitis, DL-- 2 months
  • Kevin Brown, 06/16/05, 07/28/05, back, DL-- forever
Total Number of Starters Used for 2005 Season = 14


  • Accursed Carl, 04/01/06, back, tuchus, forearm, shoulder, ribs, DL-- entire season
  • Gary Sheffield, 04/30/06, wrist, DL- 5 months
  • Hideki Matusi, 05/11/06, wrist, DL- 4 months
  • Mariano Rivera, 08/31/06, elbow/forearm, DL 1 month
  • Tanyon Sturtze, 05/19/06, rotator cuff, DL- season
  • Cory Lidle, 10/12/06- RIP

Total Number of Starters Used for 2006 = 12


  • Accursed Carl, 04/13/07, forearm, DL--season
  • Jeff Karstens, 04/29/07, leg, DL-- 3.5 months
  • Phil Hughes, 05/01/07, hamstring, DL-- 3 months
  • Daryl Rasner, 05/20/07, finger, DL -- season
  • Clemens, 09/03/07, elbow, DL- 1 month
  • Jason Giambi, 05/29/07, foot, DL- 2.5 months
  • Minky, 06/03/07, wrist-- 3 months
  • Phillips, 09/03/07 wrist-- 1 month

Total Number of Starters Used Through 2007 season = 14


  • Accursed Carl, 04/13/07- forearm, DL- season
  • Jorge Posada, 04/27/08- shoulder, DL- 1 month or more
  • Phil Hughes, 05/01/08- ribs, DL - 6 to 8 weeks


I don't cite the above list, of course, to ascribe to Carl Pavano some nefarious supernatural power to afflict other players with his tender constitution and susceptibility to injury or to blame him for the remarkably high number of starting pitcher the Yankees have had to resort to the last three seasons. (Although I do often wonder whether a sudden rash of injuries can beset a team because the outbreak can make healthy players anxious, self-conscious, or taut and therefore more injury-prone or alternatively, propels them to be inordinately aggressive in running bases, chasing hits, or throwing ball, to compensate for another teammate's lost productivity.)

No, the Pavano Plague has been as its most pernicious not in afflicting Yankees players' bodies but rather in traumatizing the Front-Office's mind, distorting its perceptions and blighting its judgment, ever since.

The Yankees 2004 debacle, as the GM's office right recognized, stemmed, above all, from a deficient starting rotation that by season's end had two reliable starters: Mike Mussina and John Lieber. So the Yankees' proceeded that off-season, as they always have, to fortify their weakness through acquisition. I acquire; therefore, I am. They spent bountiful sums for the free-agent market's then most coveted pitching commodity, Carlapalooza Pavano, and they traded their prize pitching acquisition of the previous year, 28-yr-old Javier Vasquez, for their old (very old) nemesis, 41-yr-old Randy Johnson. As George always advocated, If you can't beat 'em, acquire 'em.

Well, Yankees fans, by now, know how the 2004 Improvement Plan fared. Carl Pavano pitched one-half of one contract year before dissolving into an absent punch-line synoymous with malingering and waste. Meanwhile, The Big Unit, waited until he donned Pinstripes to show his autumnal age. Come October, he degenerated into the stiff, immobile Wall Unit formidable only in size.

In fact, as one might expect, the Yankees, steeped in tradition and memory, like no other franchise, drew from this ignoble history what seemed two obvious axioms: the first from Accursed Carl, the second from the Wall Unit.

Only applied to distinctive circumstances, as we all know, axioms become fallacies. Ergo,

Rule 1: The Carla Commandment or "The Contract Canard": Thou shall not sign to large, multi-year contracts starters whose temperament the NY pitching crucible has not forged.

Rule 2: The Randy Rule or "The Farm Fallacy": Thou shall not trade "Your Youth" for "Acquired Age".


Cut to the Winter Meetings 2007. Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.

Three years have elapsed. But little has changed. Yet again, the Yankees' odious, arch-rival has won the World Series. While the Yankees, yet again, have endured another ignominious early October exit-- an exit deriving from the same Achilles Heel, incidentally, an aging and ace-less pitching staff.

And the parallells proliferate: Yet again, there looms on the market in the off-season an elite lefty-- the kind of premiere starter available once a decade-- who promises in one salutary swoop to cure the Yankees of their chronic deficiency.

The problem, of course, is that he happens to evoke, not one, but both of the 2004 Commandments. First, the Minnesota Marvel stipulates he will sign for no less than 6-years and $120 million. He thus triggers Axiom 1, The Contract Canard. Long-Term Contract. Large Sums of Money. Starter Un-tested in the crucible of New York.

Worse, because the Minnesota Marvel isn't a free-agent, his acquisition would require the Yankees to cede Phil Hughes, Melky Cabrera, Jeff Marquez, and Mitch Hilligoss-- thus violating Axiom 2, The Farm Fallacy. Prospects Sought: four homegrown players. All four ripe and under 24. By contrast, the Minnesota Marvel is 29, 8 years older than the trades's plum sacrifice, Phil Hughes.

Bad enough to violate Axiom 1, but to violate Axiom 2, as well, the Yankees front-office cannot abide. So applying the lessons of history, or more accurately, misapplying them, the Yankees forsake the opportunity to acquire Johan Santana and one month into the season the youthful, homegrown pitcher they jealously hoarded ends up where, but for 2006, he has, for prolonged stints, every season since the Yankees drafted him-- on the Disabled List. (Hmmn, that sounds vaguely familiar, doesn't it? Are you fearing what I'm fearing?)

How, Why could the lessons of history steer the organization wrong? Well, primarily because both baseball and the Yankees' franchise in particular have changed so dramatically as to render the lessons of 2004 obsolete.

First, the 2007 Yankees, thanks to Brian Cashman (more ironies) abound in young pitching talent. Back in '04, by contrast, the farm was fallow. Javier Vasquez was the one and only young pitcher the Yankees possessed of any trade value. Trading him for a pitcher then 13 years his senior not only exchanged youth for age but stripped the franchise bare. In trading Phil Hughes, on the other hand, the Yankees still would have retained a riches of starter prospects: Joba, IPK, Brackman, Horne, and McCutchen.

What's more, the all-star, starting lefty they'd have acquired for 2008 was 29 on Opening Day not the 41 Randy Johnson was for April 1 three years earlier. The difference: acquiring the pitcher who is among the best pitchers in baseball, instead of acquiring the pitcher who was among them.

Finally, Johan Santana is sui generis. Pitchers of his caliber are so rare, and rarer still are they available that no rules apply, other than the obvious: Get him if you can.

More instructively, Santana differed so profoundly in talent, constitution, record, and prior performance from Axiom 1's example, Pavano, that he precluded comparison, let alone applied wisdom. Pavano had had one good year, 2004 and had acquitted himself well in one post-season. Santana, in contrast, had proven the best pitcher in baseball for five consecutive years and had thrived in multiple post-seasons. Johan Santana suggested a constitution of steel. Carl Pavano intimated a cast of plaster.

Why do I belabor the moot, you might ask? After all, Santana is an opportunity long since foreclosed. Indeed, he is. But the Pox of Pavano lives still. That is, there still exists the danger that "The Contract Canard" and "The Farm Fallacy" reside like vestigial phantoms in the deep recesses of Yankees' psyche haunting them indefinitely, obscuring future perception of an Oswald and/or distorting tomorrow's judgment of a Sabathia.

So let the exorcism begin.

[1] Of course, the irony of the Yankees, for the first time in recent memory, forsaking the chance to acquire the very pitcher who just had thwarted them in the post-season will not be lost on many Yankee fans. Oh, but for the days of Tommy John and Luis Tiant.